The Fastest and Cheapest Food on the Road

by Phyllis Y. Guth


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The fastest and cheapest food on the road is the food you take with you from home. It could be as simple as hoagies, sandwiches or salads of all kinds. In cold weather, it could be insulated jugs of hot soups or spaghetti along with hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

We've found this to be true on numerous car trips up and down the East Coast and on other out-of-state journeys. It takes a fair amount of preparation, but with careful planning, you can minimize the amount of last-minute details.

I prepare for upcoming trips a week or so in advance by cooking a beef roast, chicken, turkey or ham large enough to provide leftovers. I freeze the remainder until the day before our departure when I defrost and grind up the meat or chicken for sandwich spread or slice it for sandwiches. For safety reasons, I don't save mayonnaise-based-sandwich spreads or salads for a second day.

If I have fresh vegetables on hand, I clean and cut them up to take along accompanied by a simple vegetable dip. You'll have an ample supply of home-baked goodies for desserts and snacks, too, if you freeze a few cookies, slices of cake, muffins or cupcakes whenever you bake. While crumb toppings are preferable to icing when traveling, it is possible to freeze some frostings. Blueberry muffins, coffee cake, apple cake and chocolate chip cookies all freeze well and can be eaten out of hand on the road.

Beverages are another consideration. To prevent dilution of the contents in my picnic jug, I make ice cubes several days ahead of time from whatever beverage I plan to take, such as lemonade, fruit punch or iced tea. If I want a second drink to use while we're away, I make an extra quart or more of iced tea and freeze it in a rectangular-shaped plastic container that fits neatly in our cooler without wasting space. If placed in the cooler while still frozen, it helps to chill the contents.

Of course, I don't rely solely on frozen beverages for refrigerant. I also fill an empty, clean half-gallon milk carton with water, freeze it, and throw in one or more purchased ice packs. In addition, any frozen items I'm carrying for use during our stay, such as orange juice concentrate, margarine, butter and cake or cookies, help to lower the temperature in the cooler.

You also can prepare your picnic kit well in advance of your trip. My list of necessities always includes salt and pepper, anti-bacterial hand cleaner, a sharp knife, bottle and can openers, plastic sandwich bags and eating utensils, a large serving spoon, paper plates, cups for hot and cold beverages, and napkins. An old tin lunch box holds the smaller items and can be reused year after year after restocking it.

If we're going to be living in an efficiency unit on our trip, I take hard-cooked eggs, juice concentrate, small quantities of margarine or butter, peanut butter, lunch meats, jelly, lettuce, tomatoes, sugar, mayonnaise, ketchup, cereal, canned sodas, coffee, tea bags, snacks, etc. During our stay, I store our ice packs and blocks in the freezer for re-use on the trip home.

By taking most of your food with you, you'll save by not having to buy all your groceries in a tourist area where prices are apt to be higher. We also carry with us snack foods and sodas from home so we needn't purchase them from a machine at a much higher price.

We keep a small insulated bag in the car for use on the road. Into this go a few sandwiches and fruit, along with small juice packs or sodas so we can snack as we drive. One or two ice blocks keeps the food chilled. This frees up more room in the cooler.

Whenever possible, we look for rest areas or welcome centers for our meals. In pleasant weather, we eat at a picnic table if one is available. When time is short, we have a quick tailgate lunch.

If your journey includes an overnight stopover, you can save time and money by taking with you the ingredients for a simple breakfast such as cereal bars, muffins or breakfast cake. Supplement it with fresh fruit in season. This continental breakfast is quick, easy and cheap, and there's no mess to clean up. While at our overnight stop, I use the motel's ice machine to replenish the supply in the cooler.

On the return journey, we also depend upon our own fast food. If we have an efficiency unit, we simply make sandwiches with any remaining food, such as tuna fish, cream cheese, jelly, peanut butter, cheese and lunch meat. Eggs can be hard-boiled for sandwiches or eating out of hand. Yogurt and any leftover restaurant food that can be eaten cold are other possibilities.

Our fast food served us well when we had to flee Myrtle Beach because of an impending hurricane. While stuck in traffic in sweltering mid-afternoon sunshine, yes sunshine, we remembered the leftover pints of ice cream, pretzels and canned sodas we had stashed in our cooler. It was especially welcome because we were far from any restaurants or stores.

Whatever your choices, you can be sure that the food you carry along is sure to be the least expensive and possibly the most nutritious you'll find on your journey.

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